March 26, 2018

SBA rebrands as small biz lending heats up

Wendell Davis Lawyer and Regional Administrator, Small Business Administration Region I

Q&A talks with Wendell Davis, a Connecticut lawyer who was named in January regional administrator for the Small Business Administration Region I, which covers New England.

Q. You were recently named Region I Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration. What's your main focus going to be in your new job?

A. I want to do everything within my power to help folks start and grow businesses, create jobs and strengthen our economy. In 2017, SBA approved 5,231 loans supporting $1.5 billion in lending to New England small businesses. While this is an impressive number, we need to do more in this growing national economy.

We need to do a better job reaching out to underserved sectors like our minority and rural communities. We need to do a better job of identifying, supporting and assisting women and veteran-owned businesses.

We can accomplish our goals by leveraging our partnerships across the region with our resource partners like SCORE, Women's Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers and Veterans Business Outreach Center as well as state and local economic development organizations and, of course, our lending partners.

Q. The SBA has played a role promoting the GOP tax plan. What are your thoughts in terms of its impact on small business?

A. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has passed it will take some time to fully understand its reach and impact on the economy. It was great to see companies across the nation react positively to its passage many of which were New England and Connecticut companies.

There is plenty of positive news in the economy: We added 313,000 jobs in February; the number of workers in the U.S. labor force increased by 816,000, the largest monthly gain since 2003; the economy has added nearly 3 million jobs since the President Trump's election; and over 4 million Americans have received bonuses, wage increases, or other new benefits that have been directly tied to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Q. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon recently said she was surprised by the lack of understanding among small businesses of the full breadth of services the SBA offers. To raise awareness, SBA is launching an "SBA re-imagined" campaign. What will that entail?

A. The goal of SBA Reimagined is to have consistent messaging across the country. It includes a new logo, new marketing messaging, an update to our website and is focused on outreach.

SBA's headquarters will provide the field offices here in New England and across the country with the tools we need to help grow our lender reach and to help us help our resource partners with the important work they do counseling and training small businesses, which is a major part of what SBA does.

McMahon often refers to the SBA as the best kept secret in the government. We are working to ensure that is no longer the case. The SBA has resources available to help start, grow and recover businesses and we want the public to know about that.

Q. What's the lending environment out there right now for small business? SBA lending increased last fiscal year in Connecticut. Is that a sign banks are anxious to lend and more small businesses are willing to borrow?

A. In New England, we are currently up 9 percent over the same time last year in the number of loan approvals and up 10 percent in dollar amount. I am optimistic that this will continue as the year progresses. This increase in lending is a good sign that businesses are seeing the importance of finding small business financing.

The Connecticut numbers are even more encouraging: The state has seen a 25 percent increase in lending since 2017. The appetite for capital is palpable. Small business confidence is surging in 2018 as optimism rises among small business owners.

As an aside, the SBA is contemplating new changes to its loan programs, which could have a positive impact on the lending climate.

Q. You've got lots of Connecticut roots. You live in Amston and went to Central Connecticut State University for your undergrad. Your previous job was as the managing partner of DCB Law Group LLC in Connecticut. What makes a lawyer interested in running a regional SBA office?

A. I have worked with small businesses most of my legal career and, in fact, most of the firms I have worked at or owned were small businesses. I have walked the small business walk and talked the small business talk. It is exciting to be in position now to impact many more businesses and many more people than I was able to reach as an attorney.

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